National Rural Water Association

2915 S. 13th Street

Duncan, OK 73533

580-252-0629   FAX 580-255-4476

Contact:  Chris Wilson, nrwacw@nrwa.org

April 30, 2008
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Protecting water an industry priority 

 

      Protecting the public's health is the top priority in every water and wastewater system in America.  Water systems aggressively take measures to protect their water sources.  Since 1990, the National and State Rural Water Associations have assisted systems in identifying, controlling and eliminating pollutants that could harm us.
      In essential component in America's efforts to prevent, reduce, and eliminate human caused pollutants in our rivers, lakes and shallow aquifers, is the National Rural Water Association's (NRWA) and the Farm Service Administration's (FSA) Source Water Protection Program.  This cooperative program has provided significant progress in reducing point source pollution from industrial, agricultural, municipal and even household sources. Further reduction of these pollutants must continue while recognizing that non-point sources have rapidly become the primary cause of water pollution. Most non-point source pollutants originate from agriculture, transportation corridors, construction activities, and paved or other impervious land cover. Non-point source pollution results from activities over large areas and can potentially be dependant on a wide variety of transient conditions, such as the weather. Managing these pollutants will require a long term commitment from local leaders combined with ongoing technical assistance.
      Non-point source pollution is expensive.  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates damages from soil erosion costs between $2 billion to $8 billion per year (Ribaudo, 1989).  The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that Public Water Systems (PWS) spend an additional $200 million per year just to remove excess nitrate to meet federal drinking water standards(Ribaudo, 1999). The NRWA/FSA Source Water Protection Program is built around the small and rural Public Works System (PWS) with local businesses, local agricultural producers, government agencies and other local groups working together to develop and implement strategies to protect their drinking water source area.
      NRWA has been a leader in source water protection since partnering with the EPA in 1990 to develop and implement the Wellhead Protection Program(WHPP). Working with the small and rural public water systems of which 26,292 are members of our state Rural Water affiliates, NRWA and State Rural Water Associations implemented a 5 step program to protect their drinking water source(s). The WHPP was built around the licensed operator of the PWS. The Wellhead Program showed that when given information and on-going technical support, the local community would successfully protect their drinking water recharge area.
  
The 5 steps of the WHPP are:
 
1. Develop a planning team around the PWS operator with other community
   stakeholders.
2. Delineate the area to be protected, a finite area with easily
   recognized geographic or political boundaries,
3. Complete an inventory of the potential contaminant sources in the
   delineated area.
4. Develop management strategies to manage the identified potential
   contaminant sources. Strategies can range from regulatory prohibitions,
   water quality monitoring, and contaminated site clean-up, to developing
   processes to mitigate the effects of contamination.
5. Develop emergency response plans to ensure the PWS has the ability
   to provide safe drinking water during a contamination event or the
   loss of the water source.
       The WHPP has been successfully implemented in over 7,000 communities across America. The WHPP's success was recognized with the 1996 Reauthorization of the Safe Drinking Water Act which mandated delineating existing public drinking water source recharge areas (step 2) and inventorying potential sources of contamination (step 3) for every PWS source in the country including surface water sources. Most of the states relied heavily on NRWA to complete the Source Water Assessment Plans (SWAP). As the states completed the delineations, many recharge areas extended far beyond the PWS boundaries and recharge areas frequently included neighboring public water systems, multiple jurisdictions, agricultural production areas, transportation corridors, and federal and state lands. The Wellhead Protection Program was expanded into the Source Water Protection Program to better use the information in the SWAPs which included surface waters to develop strategies to manage the larger source water areas through multiple constituencies working together.
        Agriculture has been identified as the largest cause of the non-point source pollution and agricultural production is consistently identified as one of the main land use activities in source water protection areas. The expanded source water recharge areas meant that multiple water sources, governing agencies, and farmers/ranchers would need to work together in developing the Source Water Protection Plan. NRWA professionals, with a long-term commitment, working at the local level through community drinking and waste water systems to develop Source Water Protection Plans is the most cost effective and reliable way to address agricultural non-point source contaminants.
        The Economic Research Services (USDA/ERS, AER-782) evaluated 5 options for addressing non-point source pollution that result from agricultural practices. The results of the study confirm that for a variety of reasons no one method will be successful at significantly lowering the overall non-point source contamination from agriculture. Education will be one requirement in any program to reduce non-point source contamination from agriculture. Also over the last 3 years minute traces of personnel care products, particularly endocrine disrupters have been found in stream water below large municipal wastewater plants. The dangers these chemicals pose has not yet been determined but a proactive public education session on proper use and disposal methods could be part of a source water program. The Grassroots Source Water Protection Program uses education to teach people how to help prevent pollution in their drinking water recharge areas. The education is provided on-site in the communities through public meetings and educational programs. The education continues with the work of the planning team and establishment of a Steering Committee. The Economic Research Services (USDA/ERS, AER-782) evaluated 5 options for addressing non-point source pollution that result from agricultural practices. The results of the study confirm that for a variety of reasons no one method will be successful at significantly lowering the overall non-point source contamination from agriculture. Education will be one requirement in any program to reduce non-point source contamination from agriculture. Also over the last 3 years minute traces of personnel care products, particularly endocrine disrupters have been found in stream water below large municipal wastewater plants. The dangers these chemicals pose has not yet been determined but a proactive public education session on proper use and disposal methods could be part of a source water program. The Grassroots Source Water Protection Program uses education to teach people how to help prevent pollution in their drinking water recharge areas. The education is provided on-site in the communities through public meetings and educational programs. The education continues with the work of the planning team and establishment of a Steering Committee.
      The NRWA has a 30 year history of providing training and technical assistance to the operators and managers of small and rural public water systems. The staff at these systems regard Rural Water Specialists as trusted partners. Public water systems are staffed by trained professionals who are dedicated to providing the highest quality drinking water to their customers at the lowest cost. Public water systems bear a significant increase in cost to remove non-point source contaminants and are natural allies with the local business and agricultural community in source water protection planning.

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